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Martha Stewart's Best and Worst Health Habits

The domestic diva talks about her efforts to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Medically Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on February 25, 2008
From the WebMD Archives

Ever wondered if Martha Stewart struggles with some of the same healthissues we mere mortals do? So did WebMD.

So when we talked to her for our March/April WebMD the Magazine'scover story, we quizzed her on some of the things we all go through -- findingtime for yourself, recovering from injury, and coping with grief. (Martha's beloved mom, "Big Martha"Kostyra, passed away last November.)

We also talked to Stewart about the visionary new center for senior healthat Mt. Sinai Medical Center in New York she recently opened, inspired by hermother -- and what she's learned about herself along the way.

1. Health Flaw: Sleep

Stewart confesses there's one thing she probably neglects: "Sleep.It's an exhausting lifestyle, and I always say sleep can go. It's not importantto me right now," she says. "I never stay in bed late -- I can't! In myhouse, the first people arrive at about 6:30, and I have to be up well beforethat." Breakfast for her household menagerie alone -- three dogs, fourcats, about 30 birds, 200 chickens, eight turkeys, five horses, and threedonkeys -- could take hours.

Could she perhaps turn in a little earlier at night? Not with the pile of 35books she bought while in Seattle over Thanksgiving waiting on her night table.And besides -- "I like watching David Letterman!"

2. Health Flaw: Stress

How does Stewart really relax? She admits she has yet to find the perfectway to wind down from her hectic lifestyle. "I wish I had one!" shelaments. She's stressed by the way today's high-tech world has cut people offfrom one another, and laments the fact that her daily phone conversation withher daughter has now turned into a daily email. "Just simply talking tosomebody makes things better. A three-word email doesn't do that," shesays.

"Although ... when I get on my horse and go out into the woods, thething I always say is, 'It doesn't get any better than this.' That's a goodlittle motto. We all need to look for those moments when we can saythat."

3. Health Feat: Personalizing Her Grief

Stewart's loss of her mom last December was fairly sudden; she'd been ingood health up until a strokein early November. An unexpected loss requires a specific approach to grieving,says Pamela Sollenberger, MS, a certified grief counselor who serves on theadvisory board for the American Academy of Grief Counseling.

"When someone has been very ill for a long time, we're a lot furtheralong in our grieving when that person dies," she says. "But if it's arelatively sudden loss, we have no time to prepare." And just becauseStewart isn't wearing her grief on her crisply ironed sleeve doesn't mean sheisn't struggling in private. "Your grief is unique only to you. Yours isdifferent than mine, Martha Stewart's is different than ours," Sollenbergersays.

One way of grappling with loss is to channel energies into something thathonors that person and creates a legacy. For Stewart, this could mean deepeningher involvement with her Mount Sinai Martha Stewart Center for Living, whichopened last fall in New York thanks to a $5 million investment from Stewart,and which mattered so much to her mother.

The 7,800-foot center introduces a unique approach to elder care, bringingtogether under one roof specialists in geriatric medicine wellness, andactivities such as yoga, taichi, and nutrition.

Another healthy way to cope with loss is to engage in what Sollenbergercalls "instrumental grieving," which could be anything from choppingwood to hoeing the garden to kickboxing. "Sometimes it's easier to exerciseyour grief than to talk about it," she says.

4. Health Feat: Diet and Exercise

No matter her schedule, Stewart makes sure to make time for her workoutroutine. "I do more exercise than I ever did before, but that's because Iam living a very hectic life that requires exercise. I feel I need it," shesays. She'd squeezed in an early-morning workout and then another hour of yogawith a trainer the day she spoke with WebMD. "That's a lucky day. Usually Iget about an hour a day. But I have to insist on it."

Her fierceness about fitness likely contributed to her quick recovery fromsurgery back in June, when ongoing painfrom torn cartilage of the hip spurred her to undergo hip replacement. Stewartwas riding her horse the day before the procedure and back at work five daysafter.

"I get zillions of emails from all over the country asking what I didfor Martha," says her surgeon, Steven Stuchin, MD, director of orthopaedicsurgery at New York University Hospital for Joint Diseases. "In termsof technique, I did some cool stuff. But what's really important is ... Marthawent into this in as good a shape as she could be."

As for nutrition, Stewart has long believed in eating fresh and homemade."I don't eat a lot of artificial foods and never have; I don't open a lotof cans and bottles," she says. "I just refuse to imbibe or eat thingsthat I think are dangerous."

5. Health Feat: Perfectionism

Yes, it's true: For Stewart, being perfect may be just what the doctorordered. That is, perfectionism may be a healthy way for her to work throughtough times.

Some mental health experts still cling to the notion that perfectionism is aform of neurosis, but many now understand it can have positive aspects, saysUniversity of Michigan psychologist Edward C. Chang, PhD. While"maladaptive" or negative perfectionists turn that stress inward and use it as an excuse to give up,"adaptive" or positive perfectionists such as Stewart "use thatstress as kind of a motivating or energizing factor to move toward theirgoals," he says.

Other experts see a potential upside as well. Psychologists Joachim Stoeber,PhD, from the University of Kent in the United Kingdom and Kathleen Otto, PhD,from the University of Leipzig in Germany reviewed 35 studies of perfectionistsand found a healthy benefit to perfectionism. Compared with less exactingpeople, perfectionists tend to be higher achievers, more satisfied with theirlives, and better able to cope with setbacks.

Hmm, does that sound like anyone you've heard of?

Just like Stewart, we all have our health failings -- and feats. Her goal,with her new senior center and an in-the-works health-oriented makeover formuch of her media empire (yes, even Martha Stewart Weddings), is to getus to focus more on the feats, and make the most of them. "We have to findthe path to wellness, and that means making plans now for how to live healthilywell into the future," Stewart tells WebMD.

For the full story on Martha Stewart's best and worst health habits and hervisionary new center for senior health care, look in your doctor's office forWebMD the Magazine's cover story on her in the March/April 2008 issue.Or readthe story online now.

Show Sources

SOURCES:

Martha Stewart.

Pamela Sollenberger, MS, certified grief counselor; advisory board member, American Academy of Grief Counseling.

Steven Stuchin, MD, director of orthopaedic surgery, New York University Hospital for Joint Diseases.

Edward C. Chang, PhD, psychologist, University of Michigan.

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